NHL: Penguins top Minnesota
PITTSBURGH — The short-handed Pittsburgh Penguins continue to be nearly unbeatable on their home ice.
The Penguins (26-10-1) also won their 10th game in a row at the Consol Energy Center. They are 16-3-0 at home this season, and they have 31 wins in their past 36 home games, dating to last season.
Maatta came up big on a night when the Eastern Conference-leading Penguins were missing five of their top defenseman. Deryk Engelland served the third game of a five-game suspension for an illegal check to the head of Detroit Red Wings left winger Justin Abdelkader, while Kris Letang (upper body), Rob Scuderi (ankle), Paul Martin (leg) and Brooks Orpik (concussion) are on injured reserve.
Penguins center Evgeni Malkin missed his third consecutive game with a left leg injury, and he likely won’t return until Dec. 23 for a game against the Senators in Ottawa.
Meanwhile, left wing James Neal returned to the Penguins’ lineup after serving a five-game suspension for kneeing Boston Bruins left winger Brad Marchand. Neal registered one assist.
After the Wild cut a 4-0 deficit to 4-2, Maatta ended any hope of a comeback by converting his penalty shot with 12:06 remaining. The 19-year-old beat Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom between the pads for his third goal of the season after being taken down by defenseman Jonas Brodin on a short-handed breakaway. It was Maatta’s third goal of the season.
Backstrom started for the Wild (20-12-5), and he gave up five goals on 34 shots one day after starter Josh Harding was placed injured reserve in order to have time to adjust the medication used to treat his multiple sclerosis. Harding will miss at least three games and is tentatively scheduled to return Dec. 27 for a road game against the Winnipeg Jets.
Backstrom is 2-6-2 this season, while Harding is 18-5-3.
The Penguins also started their No. 2 goalie, rookie Jeff Zatkoff, and he made 24 saves. Marc-Andre Fluery, whose 20 wins lead the NHL, got the night off.
The Penguins scored just 49 seconds into the game when left winger Pascal Dupuis knocked in a rebound during a scramble in front of the net for his seventh goal.
In the second period, the Penguins extended their lead to 4-0.
Center Brandon Sutter scored his eighth goal on a wrist shot from the left circle while falling down at 1:54. Defenseman Matt Niskanen whistled a slap shot past a screened Backstrom on the power play at 3:33 for his second, and left winger Chris Kunitz scored his 19th at 10:43 by converting a beautiful pass into the slot from center Sidney Crosby.
The Wild got their first goal 37 seconds later when right winger Jason Pominville scored his 16th by tipping in a shot by right winger Nino Niederreiter.
Left winger Dany Heatley drew the Wild within 4-2 at 3:15 of the third period when he poked in the puck during a pileup at the net.
The Wild got no closer, though, as their two-game winning streak ended. They won each of their previous six games at Pittsburgh, dating to Jan. 8, 2011.
Notes: Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said Penguins RW Jayson Megna would miss at least six weeks with a lower-body injury suffered Monday night when he collided with Toronto Maple Leafs G Jonathan Bernier. ... Wild RW Matt Cooke made his return to Pittsburgh and received a loud ovation. He spent the last five seasons with the Penguins before signing with the Wild as a free agent and plans to make Pittsburgh his permanent home after he retires. ... There were two fights within the first five minutes of the game as Wild C Zenon Konopka squared off with Penguins RW Craig Adams and Minnesota D Keith Ballard skirmished with Pittsburgh RW Chuck Kobasew. Ballard also brawled with LW James Neal in the second period. ... Wild RW Justin Fontaine, C Mike Rupp and D Nate Prosser were healthy scratches. ... Penguins C Brian Gibbons was scratched along with D Deryk Engelland and C Evgeni Malkin. ... The Penguins host the Calgary Flames on Saturday, and the Wild visit the New York Rangers on Sunday.